I received so many wonderful comments and responses to my last blog post “Absence Makes the Heart…” that I want to share some of them. I heard from parents with biologically related children, teachers, adoptive parents, church friends, school friends, and birth family members, among others. There were many affirmations of John and me, for which I am grateful. A common theme was the difference between parental hopes and dreams for their child and the child’s actual path –
“Our children ultimately need to make their own decisions and accept consequences as adults. I believe perhaps the hardest parenting decision I’ve had to contend with is letting go.”
“We don’t get to know outcomes. We can only love them today and accept them today where they’re at. The outcomes aren’t up to us.”
“You need only reflect on the years you shared my efforts at parenting my oldest to appreciate the importance of (a) letting go of the notion that parents can control outcomes for their children and (b) reflecting on the positive power of your parenting efforts on the likely longer term result… I watched my son find his own life sensibilities and become a wonderful person, husband, parent, and beloved high school teacher.”
“While they may not take the ‘easy’ or traditional path, their education or success may mean more to them because they have walked that hard road.”
One very poignant response came from my middle-child’s grandmother who shared her own struggles in parenting and her sadness about the grandchildren she may never know because of decisions that were made out of her control. Yet, she too affirmed doing the best you can do in the moment and trying not to feel guilty about what you might have done differently.
Words mean more in context. And because I know these individuals and some of the struggles they’ve faced, my heart was touched. Each family is unique. And as I reflected on these various situations and the pain involved, I once again realized how important it is to TALK about that pain – with a loved one, with a professional, in a support group, or somewhere. Part of that process is acknowledging the pain to oneself. Another part of the process is educating the other person or persons. A third benefit is receiving feedback that may affirm feelings or redirect energies and attention. I have shared before how valuable I believe it is to me to be part of an adoption triad group where I hear from the perspective of adoptees and birth parents. Often, I realize that I have never considered what a particular experience felt like from that position in the triad. I believe that learning from the other enriches my interactions with persons outside of the group as I go about the rest of my life.
Let me give you an example of the kind of “hidden experience” I have as an adoptive parent that someone who stands in a another position in the triad or one who came to parenting through different means may not know. When I fill out an OBGYN form, I answer these questions this way:
How many pregnancies? 0
How many children? 5
Infertility will always be part of my story. No one will ever say to me about one of my children: “She has your eyes” or “He walks just like you.” I’ll always wince a little when I hear those kinds of comments made about my siblings’ or friends’ children, or even when my children’s birth family note resemblances to the children I am raising. These are positive, affirming statements, statements of inclusion, good for the people who receive them (most of the time). It’s a part of life that isn’t going away and, in my opinion, shouldn’t go away. I mention my wincing because it’s a reminder of a hurt I carry. I think it’s important to acknowledge this hurt rather than bury it. If I buried or denied it, I might expect something different from my kids or others. I might resent them and take out my resentment on them in hurtful ways.
We’ve all got “stuff” in our histories or current lives that pains us or directs our energy in less than productive ways. Let’s TALK about it instead of hiding it!
I’m leading a workshop at the annual American Adoption Congress conference next week in Atlanta. My topic is “Promises & Pitfalls: Open Adoption Over Time.” I hope to generate discussion about what we were promised with open adoption, what has worked, what issues we struggle with, and what changes in the process and education we can imagine might solve some of the “pitfalls.”
In my mind, I have two pictures that represent my view of the current state of open adoption. (I wish I had Skye or Journey here to draw or visually illustrate what is in my mind’s eye.) I will make an attempt at a written description. The first picture shows “What We Were Promised.” On the left is the “Before.” There is a broken heart representing the prospective adoptive parents and their infertility. Below that heart is another broken heart and stick figure child/baby representing the woman or couple with an unplanned pregnancy who is/are unable to parent. In between the two broken hearts is the boldly lettered word CRISIS. Moving to the right is a large arrow labeled “Open Adoption.” On the right is the “After.” There is a triangular set of lines. Top left is a whole heart labeled “family of origin.” A line connects it to the whole heart on the right labeled “adoptive family.” Above the line connecting the family of origin and the adoptive family is the word “Healing.” Below and between the two hearts, connected by lines coming from both hearts, is the stick figure child/baby. Below the stick figure is the word “Wholeness.”
My second mental image is “Reality.” In this drawing, the heart on the left, labeled “family of origin,” is a whole heart with cracks in it labeled “social shame” and “ongoing loss.” On the right, labeled “adoptive family,” is another whole heart with cracks in it labeled “child’s otherness” and “entitlement issues.” Between the two cracked hearts is the stick figure child/baby. It has arrows on either side pointing toward the two hearts. Underneath the figure, it says “dual, sometimes conflicting, loyalties.”
My hope in painting these pictures for you is NOT to discourage you about open adoption. I love open adoption. I believe in open adoption. My hope is to draw attention to issues that still need to be addressed. In researching for my workshop, I spent a lot of time reading articles and perusing online discussions among parents in open adoption. In putting together my PowerPoint for the conference, I did my best to categorize these overlapping issues. My categories include:
- Privacy Rights
- Changing Circumstances
- Differing Values
- “Alternative Facts”
- More Than One Adoption
- Child Development
- Contact Agreements
- Rights of Adoptee
- Conflict Between Birth Family Members
- Money/Birth Parent Needs
- Too Much Knowledge!
I’m looking forward to discussion with others who care deeply about adoption issues. No doubt, I will learn more from them than they learn from me. I hope that you, also, find your people and places where you can share what presses on your heart and mind because, as my friend Dawn says, “Life will never be what one expects, but rather what one is called upon to be in the moment with. Indeed.”
And it changes so quickly!
From this young family to…
To this and then to…
And to this (contained chaos)…
And to this and beyond!